Lead

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What is lead and where does it come from?

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can be found on earth's crust. Lead does not usually naturally occur in drinking water, but it can be present in household plumbing or water service lines and contaminate drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Soft, acidic water is more likely to dissolve lead from solder or pipes than hard water. Houses built before 1986 have an increased risk of having lead fixtures. However, newer homes may be at risk as well. Legally defined "lead-free plumbing" can contain up to 8 percent lead. Lead is also present in the air and some food because of lead in automobile exhaust and industrial emissions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) estimates that 20 percent of our total exposure to lead comes from drinking water.

What are some health concerns of lead in water?

Children have the highest health risk from exposure to lead. Exposure to lead can lead to premature birth, reduce birth weight, delayed physical and mental development in babies and toddlers and cause learning disabilities and slight deficits in attention span in children. Accumulation of lead in adults can cause high blood pressure and kidney problems. Long-term exposure of high levels of lead may also potentially cause anemia, stroke, damage to the nervous system and cancer.

How do I find out if there is lead in my water?

If you rely on a public water system, then your water is tested annually for lead and other pollutants. If lead concentrations above the drinking water standard are found, the supplier is required to notify the public within 30 days. Most water companies will send out an annual Consumer Confidence Report which discloses contaminants found, possible health effects and the water’s source. This report is generally sent in July with your water bill. If you do not receive a report, contact your water company for this information.

Even if you receive your water from a public water system, lead contamination may occur after the water has left the treatment plant and sits in pipes and other plumbing fixtures, especially if the water is soft.

If you have a private water system (private well) then you are responsible to ensure your drinking water is safe for human consumption. To test for lead contact a certified testing lab near you. To test your water for lead it will cost approximately $12-20. Free testing may be available through the Department of Agriculture and Food. Call them at 801-538-9905. For more information about well water and lead see the fact sheet Lead or click here.

What is the drinking water standard for lead?

Since 1992 the drinking water standard for lead has been 15 parts per billion (ppb). All public water systems must comply with this lead standard. There is no standard for private well waters, nor is testing required, which means the private well owner is responsible for testing their own water.

What can I do to reduce lead in my drinking water?

If your test results indicate higher levels of lead than the standard there are multiple ways to lessen the risk of exposure to lead in your drinking water including:
  • Determine the source of contamination and fix it if possible. Replacing plumbing may be expensive, but it may be the only way to permanently lower the levels of lead in your water.
  • Install a reverse osmosis or distillation unit, which will remove lead and other contaminants from your water. For more information on these systems please see the fact sheet Drinking Water Treatment Systems.
  • Flush the water taps or faucets. Lead may enter water when water has been sitting in pipes and plumbing fixtures for extended periods of time. If you have not used water for several hours, run the cold water tap for several minutes before using. This will flush out the system.
  • Do not use hot water from the tap for cooking, drinking, or making baby formula. Hot water dissolves lead more quickly than cold water, so lead can be present in higher concentrations in hot water.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will concentrate lead, not remove it.
  • Use bottled water for drinking and cooking.